Veterans’ War Memorial Restored In East St. Louis

The first time I saw East St. Louis’ War Memorial, I can still remember it. I go out on weekends to explore, and was walking down Lynch Avenue when the monument appeared. It was located in the middle of an abandoned traffic island and just a stones throw from the Jackie Joyner Kersee foundation and the historic Jones Park. It was cloudy so I took a quick photo to get a better look at it when I got home.Later in the weekend, I re-examined my photograph of the War Memorial. It looked almost like a truck had crashed into it. The monument has been toppled many times over the years. It looked as though it was losing its battle against gravity in the near future. I was worried that another symbol of East St. Louis’s history was being lost.

Before I was aware, a group made up of veterans, meeting at the Mixon Insurance building downtown in East St. Louis and centered around American Legion Post 2505, had begun plans to replace the damaged monument. I covered their beginning. However, when I mentioned their plans on the Missouri side the Mississippi River, I received the usual skeptical look. I was assured by casual observers that this feat would not be possible in East St. Louis.

Casual observers were mistaken. On Saturday, May 25, American Legion Post 2505, veterans and the general public attended the rededication ceremony of the Veterans War Memorial Monument. It is now located in Jones Park. Walter Knoll Florist donated flowers. Amelia Szymanek, Airman First Class, sang the National Anthem, “God Bless America” and the Granite City Community Band performed throughout the ceremony. The committee read the names of those who had fallen, which were long hidden by the severely damaged extant stone. Chairman of the war memorial committee, Claude Bush, announced that commemorative bricks would be available for purchase to help fund Phase II. Finally, the blue plastic tarps were taken off and the new monument, which was crafted by Weiss Monument Works, was revealed.

The success of the East Saint Louis Veterans’ Memorial is a great example for anyone considering renovating or building a memorial. First, I believe that replacing the original monument was a realistic goal. Although the monument had historical significance, it was not an enormous undertaking. Therefore, the cost to replace it with quality stone was manageable. This brings us to a second point, the cooperation of local governments. Early on, the committee got the support of East St. Louis’ and St. Clair County leaders. In the end, the majority of funding for Phase I was provided by local government. The war memorial committee brought a wide range of skills and backgrounds to the table.

This brings me to Linda Mixon and Bill Mixon, who I haven’t yet mentioned in my articles on the War Memorial efforts. The Mixons, who were dedicated to the cause from the beginning, have been community leaders in East St. Louis for many decades, operating out of their downtown insurance office. Although Bill died last year, Linda decided to carry on the work of the insurance office, while not abandoning the people of East St. Louis. She was present at rededication of monument. After Bill’s death, I listened back to the interviews I had with the members of the committee and heard Bill talk about purchasing hot dogs for his next community barbecue. He was well-known for his barbecues. He didn’t make long, self-congratulatory speeches. Instead, he was constantly planning the next way to help his community.

If we pay attention, there is much to be proud about on the East Side.